Visit Cusco and you can witness one of the greatest structures ever erected, the Inca fortress temple of Sacsayhuaman.
This titanic feat of megalithic architecture has astounded observers from the time of the Spanish Conquest to the present day.
Pedro Sancho wrote in 1534 of Sacsayhuaman that “neither the stone aqueduct of Segovia nor the buildings of Hercules nor the work of the Romans had the dignity of this fortress.”
Theories abound as to how the gigantic, irregular shaped boulders of its outer terrace walls were quarried and transported distances ranging from nine to 20 miles. The mammoth stone blocks were perfectly fitted together without mortar by a bronze age civilization that had no standard system of writing, or even the wheel.
Many researchers have attributed the construction not to the Inca, but rather to some vague and shadowy “Megalithic Empire” that predated the Inca Empire.
Among the most exotic explanations involve the use of stone-melting liquid solvents and laser beams, a mythical race of giants, or even extra-terrestrials. These fanciful notions are premised on the assumption that the transport and manipulation of boulders, some weighing more than 100 tons, was a superhuman endeavor, beyond the means of “primitive” people.
The site is described in detail by the chroniclers Pedro de Cieza de León, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa and Garcilasso de la Vega, who himself mused that “because the Indians were so familiar with demons, the work is attributed to enchantment.”
However, construction of the cyclopean walls are most generally ascribed to the Ninth Inca, Pachacutec (“Earthshaker”) and his son Topa Inca.
A visionary and governing urban planner, Pachacutec rebuilt Cusco in the shape of a puma to reflect an Inca conception of society and the universe. In this cosmo-vision, the outer and lower terraced zig-zagging walls formed the teeth of the great feline’s head. The puma’s heart was the Koricancha temple.
Construction of Sacsayhuaman began during Pachacutec’s rule after 1438, employing between 20,000 and 30,000 builders during the roughly 70 years that it took for its completion.
The Spanish used Sacsayhuaman as a convenient, prefab quarry, dismantling the towers, palace and store houses to use the masterfully hewn stones as foundations for new buildings and churches in Cusco.
Many researchers believe the remaining three rows of zigzagging ramparts corresponded to the cyclical three-tiered Inca conception of their place in the universe:
- Hanan Pacha (the sky, where the rains comes from, characterized most commonly by iconography related to the condor)
- Kay Pacha (the terrestrial world of people and animals, characterized by the puma)
- Uku Pacha (the subterranean world, where the spirits of the dead dwell, and whose favor is needed for the soil to bear its fruits. This netherworld is often characterized by snakes and spiders).
Lee is one of the world’s leading megalithic mystery detectives.
He believes that very similar to the scribing and coping methods used to make log cabins, the Inca — working with only stone hammers and axes, bronze chisels, sand abrasives and wooden bracing and rollers — could have managed to lift, shape and fit into place by trial and error the giant boulders.
His scribing and coping theory of stone cutting is presented in detail in his article “The Building of the Sacsahuaman,” first published in 1986 in the Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology.
Sacsayhuaman is a must-experience for anyone visiting Cusco. Contact Fertur Peru, your Peru travel agency, about this and other Cusco tours.
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